Miracle shot sends Gophers to semis

Freshman guard Blake Hoffarber hit a jumper as time expired Friday night, helping Minnesota upset third-seeded Indiana in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis

Zach Eisendrath

INDIANAPOLIS – He did it, again.

Minnesota freshman shooting guard Blake Hoffarber hit a running jumper as time expired Friday night at Conseco Fieldhouse, sending the sixth-seeded Gophers to a 59-58 upset victory over third-seeded Indiana in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament.

Hoffarber, who is infamous for receiving the 2005 ESPY Play of the Year award after hitting a three-pointer at the buzzer to help his Hopkins High School team force overtime in the Minnesota State title game, made another heroic shot in Indianapolis. With Minnesota down 58-57 and 1.5 seconds remaining, sophomore guard Travis Busch threw a full court pass to Hoffarber, who fought for, then caught the ball, spun around, and lofted a left-handed prayer from the left elbow.

Just like in the high school championship game, it went in.

“I was actually supposed to be a decoy,” Hoffarber said.”But, I saw the ball just going to the middle, so I went up and grabbed it and just turned and tried to get it off on time, and I guess it went off in time.”

The Gophers, unconcerned the play was still under view, mobbed Hoffarber, spilling their court celebration right into press row.

“It was like I could have slapped myself two times. I thought I was dreaming,” senior guard Lawrence McKenzie said. “I’m still in shock right now.”

“I think in a game like this you get close and you bind together. Maybe a little too close, I think a couple of guys were kissing Blake,” he said.

How the Gophers went from overcoming the absence of senior center Spencer Tollackson ñ who sat out after tweaking his ankle in Thursday’s first round win over Northwestern ñ to kissing their teammate, is quite a story.

Playing like a team with nothing to lose, the Gophers came out of the gates clicking on all cylinders and built a 24-8 lead midway through the first half and even after the inevitable Hoosiers’ run; Minnesota was up 34-27 at intermission.

When the Gophers started the second half going scoreless for nearly six minutes and committing turnovers on six straight possessions ñ allowing Indiana to take its first lead of the night at 39-38 ñ it looked like the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde-esque Gophers may unravel for good in front of 18,000 hostile Hoosier fans.

That though, wasn’t the case.

Senior forward Dan Coleman, who was on the bench for 27 minutes because of early foul trouble, connected on a layup to break a tie score and McKenzie followed with a three-pointer, putting the Gophers up 53-48 with three minutes remaining. That breathing room lasted shortly, though, and Minnesota was up 57-55 with 3.4 seconds left and Hoosiers’ freshman guard Eric Gordon shooting two free throws. After missing the first free throw, Gordon intentionally missed the second, and White grabbed the rebound, put the ball in the basket to tie the game ñ and was fouled.

White missed the free throw, but the Hoosiers again gained possession and McKenzie was whistled for an on-the-ball foul on White, sending the senior to the line for two more tries. After missing his first of two, White converted the second putting Indiana up 58-57 with 1.5 seconds remaining.

Then, maybe the play of the year.

I think all of us on the team thought we could pull off that victory,” Hoffarber said. It was kind of

weird when they had a couple of shots to win it with the free throws. They went ahead and we called a timeout and coach made up a good play, the guys executed it, and Travis (Busch) threw a good pass. I think there is always a little luck to a win.

After redeeming two close losses to Indiana during the regular season, Minnesota now has the task of attempting to snap a 19-game losing streak to Illinois when the Gophers meet the Illini in the conference tournament semifinals on Saturday afternoon.

“Illinois has had us for a long time,” McKenzie said. “It’s definitely a chance to come out and prove

something else.”